In December 2006, Mexico’s newly elected President Felipe Calderón declared war against Mexican drug cartels -- words he cemented by sending over 4,000 troops to eradicate narcotraffickers and the cartel violence that had taken hold of his home state of Michoacán.
Almost six years later, the wave of violence in Mexico persists and continues to spread, with government entities recording 21,500 homicides in the first half of 2012, compared to the 25,000 homicides during Calderón’s first full year in office, according to the Associated Press.
But the human toll of the Drug War lies far beyond the U.S.-Mexico border, spreading across the entire Western Hemisphere, no longer only afflicting countries known as the main producers and consumers of the narcotics, but those caught in the middle of the illicit drug trade as well.
Activists against the drug war have therefore also needed to cross these borders, figuratively and sometimes literally leading caravans for peace or banding together in advocacy groups to fight for alternative solutions to the war on drugs and its consequences. Some say legalization, others decriminalization, but all of them ask for peace. Here are some of the faces speaking out against “failed” drug policies in their search for an end to the war.
Javier Sicilia, Mexican Poet And Peace Activist
Currently the most spoken about activist within the context of the drug war, the poet embarked on his quest for peace after losing his son in March 2011 to the "failed" drug war. In August he began an month-long trip across the United States with his<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/13/mexican-peace-activist-le_n_1773315.html" target="_hplink"> "Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity,"</a> a movement calling for the end of Drug War. "It will not be easy to cross the cultural divide to discuss subjects like drug legalization, the illegal production and sale of weapons, trafficking of migrants and money laundering," <a href="http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/national/mexican-poet-javier-sicilia-prepares-us-peace-march-against-drug-trafficking" target="_hplink">Sicilia told ABC.</a> Photo: Sicilia, the leader of the Mexican anti-drug group Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, left, marks a moment of silence for the victims of violence, before leading a 50-cross procession at Loyola Marymount University to raise awareness about the drug wars in Mexico and the United States. The procession is modeled on cross-bearing caravans he has led in Mexico to protest drug-related killings, with each cross representing 1,000 victims. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Anthony Papa, Writer And Activist
After a first-time, nonviolent drug offense under New York state's strict Rockefeller Drug Laws, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-papa/" target="_hplink">Papa was sentenced to 15 years in the Sing Sing Correctional Facility.</a> In 2004, he published his memoir "15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom," about his time in the state prison. His experience prompted him to become an activist for drug decriminalization. The activist, of Puerto Rican descent, is currently the Manager of Media Relations for the <a href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/" target="_hplink">Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that promotes alternatives to the drug war.</a> Papa has been featured in several platforms, including the Brazilian drug war documentary<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXWdKsA8EFU" target="_hplink"> "Breaking The Taboo" </a>and the <a href="http://www.15yearstolife.com/bio.htm" target="_hplink">TV news program "Democracy Now."</a> "If you can't control drugs in a maximum security prison, then how can you control drugs in a free society?" Papa s<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-papa/breaking-the-taboo-a-glob_b_877745.html" target="_hplink">ays at the end of the Brazilian documentary,</a> which included commentary from figures like Mexican actor Gael García Bernal and former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Gustavo de Greiff Restrepo, Former Attorney General For Colombia
In 1992, <a href="http://www.fiscalia.gov.co/colombia/la-entidad/el-fiscal/ex-fiscales/gustavo-de-greiff/" target="_hplink">Restrepo became Colombia's first Attorney General</a>--appointed into the position during the last days of Pablo Escobar's cartel regime. His experience with Colombia's drug cartels prompted him to advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and <a href="http://www.leap.cc/author/Gustavo/" target="_hplink">speak out against the failed policies used in the Drug War as an Advisory Board Member for LEAP.</a> "If the repressive strategy had tendered results," <a href="http://www.leap.cc/author/Gustavo/" target="_hplink">Restrepo wrote on the LEAP website.</a> "We would now have: A. Fewer land areas cultivated with plants from which the three large prohibited drugs are extracted: cocaine, heroin and marijuana; B. Less availability of these drugs in consumer markets; C. Higher prices of each of these three drugs, and; D. Fewer consumers, habitual or hardcore as well as occasional users. Unfortunately, there has been no improvement in any of these categories." <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/prensafiscaliacolombia/5433921769/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr-Fiscalía General de la Nación</a>
Gael García Bernal, Mexican Actor
The Mexican actor. who played revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in "The Motorcycle Diaries," has defended the legalization of marijuana (<a href="http://" target="_hplink">and even admitted consuming it</a>). Bernal has said prohibition is the root cause for the violence in his homeland. "Drugs are illegal - therefore, there's a fight," <a href="http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-09-03/gossip/17934378_1_drugs-kate-hudson-parked#ixzz253elDC6M" target="_hplink">said Bernal according to the <em>New York Daily News.</em></a> "I hope drugs become legalized in Mexico. If drugs were legal, there would be nothing to fight about." Photo: Bernal shakes hands with a family member of a victim of drug gang-related violence during a meeting at the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, Monday, May 28, 2012. Presidential candidates met with Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, and family members of victims of drug gang-related violence. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Roberto Lovato, Co-Founder Of Presente.org
Lovato is the <a href="http://presente.org/campaign/caravanforpeace/" target="_hplink">co-founder of Presente.org,</a> the distinguished Latino advocacy organizationthat has recently joined Javier Sicilia's Caravan For Peace to <a href="http://presente.org/campaign/caravanforpeace/" target="_hplink">"call on President Obama to stop the flow of assault weapons into our communities,"</a> that is fueled by the drug war. "The drug war has been a fantastic failure here in the United States," <a href="http://www.texastribune.org/texas-mexico-border-news/texas-mexico-border/drug-reform-movement-finds-home-mexican-protest/" target="_hplink">Lovato told <em>The Texas Tribune</em>.</a> "If you look at more than 2 million people being incarcerated, families destroyed by that incarceration, a trillion of our tax dollars utterly wasted [on the drug war]. So we have law enforcement officers who lost their brothers and their sisters in the law enforcement world, and people who have lost family members in Mexico." The San Francisco-born writer was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roberto-lovato/" target="_hplink">awarded a grant by the Pulitzer Center in March 2011</a> that allowed Lovato to analyze how the Obama Administration's militarization policies against the drug war in El Salvador (and the rest of Latin America)<a href="http://robertolovato.com/" target="_hplink"> "represent an attempt by the U.S. to assert new influence through old means."</a> His work, <a href="http://pulitzercenter.org/projects/el-salvador-us-latin-america-drugs-femicide" target="_hplink">"El Salvador: Fighting Drugs with Guns,"</a> was published on the center's website.
Marcela Lagarde, Renowned Mexican Feminist Activist
Renowned as one of Latin America's most fervent feminist activists, <a href="http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=392641&CategoryId=14091" target="_hplink">Marcela Lagarde (left) has fought against the "femicide" </a>(killing of women) that has, according to her, escalated in Mexico since former Mexican President Felipe Calderón waged war on drugs. Lagarde focuses primarily on the violence against women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico's 'Murder Capital.' "Everything that is happening favors violence against women," <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/epa/article/ALeqM5igVLPeEP6WFEjqbN3UX_GVCXGxRw?docId=1518815" target="_hplink">Lagarde told Efe in April 2011, adding that Calderón's solution to the issue "cultivates a very violent culture"</a> and "establishes an ideology of violence, of defeat, of war." The Mexico-city born academic, Lagarde, aims for the inclusion of "femicide" in the Mexican Penal Code. "It's a very macho culture, very misogynist, and we women are left defenseless," <a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/epa/article/ALeqM5igVLPeEP6WFEjqbN3UX_GVCXGxRw?docId=1518815" target="_hplink">Lagarde added.</a>
Juanes, Colombian Singer And Philantropist
The Colombian rock star has long been known for his work towards world peace, beginning with his home country. The artist "Mi Sangre" foundation aims to help Colombian children overcome the psychological effects of the country's violence and work together towards peace. With this same "peace" objective, the singer-songwriter has repeatedly supported drug legalization as a means to end the violence that afflicts the Americas. "Legalizing drugs would be a huge step in the fight against drug trafficking," <a href="http://www.elespectador.com/entretenimiento/agenda/musica/articulo-349563-legalizar-drogas-seria-un-paso-gigante-frente-lucha-co" target="_hplink">the Colombian star told <em>El Espectador</em>.</a> In June, the artist announced that he would <a href="http://noticiascaracol.com/entretenimiento/video-266829-juanes-emprendera-campana-a-favor-de-la-legalizacion-de-la-droga" target="_hplink">launch a campaign in favor of drug legalization</a> in Colombia.
Jorge Castañeda, Former Mexican Secretary Of Foreign Affairs
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/28/drug-legalization-pros-cons-drug-war_n_1834417.html#slide=1435269" target="_hplink">thousands of lives lost in Mexico to drug-related violence</a> has caused Mexico's former Foreign Minister to declare former President Felipe Calderón's war on drugs "failed." Castañeda has been known to <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2010-02-02/world/us.mexico.marijuana_1_drug-cartels-cartels-profits-calderon-government?_s=PM:WORLD" target="_hplink">frequently advocate for drug legalization on both sides of the border</a> to decrease the cartel violence that plague's his native country. <a href="http://www.cato.org/publications/economic-development-bulletin/mexicos-failed-drug-war" target="_hplink">In an Economic Development Bulletin by the CATO Institute, the former Mexican official wrote:</a> "There is no possible way that Mexico could get away with unilaterally decriminalizing possession, commerce, and consumption of drugs in Mexico if the United States didn't do the same thing." -- <a href="Mexico's Failed Drug War" target="_hplink">"Mexico's Failed Drug War," May 2010.</a>
Judge Maria Lucia Karam, Brazilian Retired Magistrate
Karam is currently on the <a href="http://www.leap.cc/about/who-we-are/" target="_hplink">Board of Directors of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)</a>, and organization formed to promote the legalization and regulation of drugs that would end, what they consider to be, a costly and failed Drug War. In the 1980s, Karam worked in Brazil as a judge, <a href="http://www.leap.cc/author/MariaK/" target="_hplink">a position she used to prevent one-time drug offenders with difficult socio-economic circumstances from being criminally charged.</a> "In short, I tried to help them escape a punishment that would put them in prison and would destroy their lives and the lives of their families," <a href="http://www.leap.cc/author/MariaK/" target="_hplink">Karam wrote on the LEAP website.</a> "The intervention of the criminal-justice system, as usual, does not control anything - and in this particular case just consigns the drug market (which, as reality and history demonstrate, will not disappear, no matter if drugs are legal or illegal) to criminalized actors that are not submitted to any control or regulation of their economic activities."
Salma Hayek, Mexican Actress
The star's role as Elena, a ruthless cartel queen, in Oliver Stone's "Savages" prompted the actress to receive a lot of questions about the Drug War's effect in her native country. "It's true that we have a problem in Mexico and it is important to talk about it. However, the U.S. is playing a major role, even if they claim it is purely a Mexican problem." <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/salma-hayek-vogue-germany-mexican_n_1818913.html" target="_hplink">Hayek told Vogue Deutsch (as translated from German to English).</a> "More than 30,000 people have been killed in the past few years in this drug war -- mainly by arms that come from the U.S." Like Stone, the actress has said she is not against legalizing marijuana "if it's legalized and controlled," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/oliver-stone-weed-savages_n_1651874.html" target="_hplink">Hayek told the Associated Press.</a> "Some of the other drugs that are on the market are really, really dangerous. The legal drugs. That your doctor can prescribe. And they can kill you with it slowly."
Leopoldo Rivera, President of the Mexican Association For Cannabis Studies.
Rivera is the <a href="http://www.drogasmexico.org/?autor=222" target="_hplink">President and Founder of the Mexican Association For Cannabis Studies (AMEC in Spanish),</a> an organization that promotes the legalization of the plant through research of cannabis' history in Mexico and protests, like the <a href="http://cannabislibre.info/xi-marcha-dia-mundial-por-la-liberacion-de-la-marihuana/" target="_hplink">annual Global Marijuana March.</a> In May 2011, the Mexican-born activists joined thousands on the street's of Mexico City to march for the legalization of cannabis. "We consider prudent to be informed on this (topic). (People) who consume are not necessarily criminals or ill, it could be any regular person who is productive, contributing member of society," <a href="http://www.digtriad.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=174644" target="_hplink">Rivera told WFMY News 2 during the march.</a>
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